Webcurios 17/11/23

Reading Time: 36 minutes

Hello everyone! Hello! Normal service is once again resumed after last week’s minor, prose-free aberration – thanks for your patience and for the fact that the vast majority of you managed to resist the temptation to email me with a pithy ‘it was better without the words, you cnut’ message.

Anyway, I am once again in something of a rush due to the fact that I owe my girlfriend several hours of domestic labour and need to get my marigolds ready – while I accumulate cleaning products and worry about their effect on my delicate hands, why don’t YOU sit tight with this week’s selection of top-quality webspaff and click and read and smile and laugh and cry and wonder and hope, and generally enjoy the whole gamut of human emotion that I am slowly trying to eliminate from my life via the medium of persistent substance abuse?

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you might well end up being Foreign Secretary of the UK if you hang around long enough (and if you went to Eton. And Oxford).

By Carla Sutera Sardo



  • The Wrong: We begin this week with one of those links where quite honestly I could just leave this here and go back to bed and feel that, broadly-speaking, I had  probably provided enough internet to be getting on with for the next seven days (but I am NOT doing that because of my now-legendary stakhanovtite dedication and the increasingly-worrying extent to which my self-worth is bound up in ‘spaffing out one of these every week’) – The Wrong Biennale is…well, it’s basically a digital arts festival that exists solely online, and contains a dizzying range of works by a host of artists (most of whom I confess to not having heard of before), and which has apparently been going for almost as long as Curios has, and now I am embarrassed that this has totally passed me by for a decade. OH WELL. “The Wrong Biennale is an independent, multicultural, decentralised and collaborative international art biennial founded in 2o13 by David Quiles Guilló, and organised by The Wrong Studio. The Wrong has grown to become a massive international community and a global reference in the art scene, bringing together curators, artists and institutions, online and offline, every two years, garnering praise from worldwide press, art community and public, and rendering institutional recognition and awards like SOIS Cultura 2o19 and the honorific mention by European Commission S+T+ARTS 2o2o prize. A melting pot for the established, the emerging and the underrepresented, to explore creativity and digital culture in a positive and constructive way, The Wrong showcases a wide range of cultures, styles, and mediums to a global audience, fostering a more inclusive and diverse digital art scene, and encouraging artistic growth and experimentation.” It’s not the *nicest* site to navigate, and if I’m being pernickety I might have preferred all the exhibits to exist on a single URL rather than throwing you around the web, but I suggest you just scroll down the homepage, pick a name that sounds interesting, click and just see where it takes you. There’s a LOT of odd stuff in here just waiting for you to stumble across it, from glitched-out vaporwave stuff to entire exhibits that exist solely on TOR – this really is a fascinating snapshot of The State of (Some) Digital Art in 2023.
  • NASA +:. This is basically ‘NASA TV’ – an online hub for all the space agency’s videos and livestreams, and a lovely place to hang out online when you want to once again use the infinite majesty of the cosmos as a distraction from the somewhat-more-pedestrian concerns of the quotidian. There is some amazing footage on here, as you’d expect, but also a lot of interesting-looking documentaries and general science-y/space-y stuff (can you tell that my engagement with the sciences stopped approximately 28 years ago? You can, can’t you?) for you or the aspirant astronaut in your life to get involved with.
  • Eyes On Russia: It’s a truth universally acknowledged that we’re basically incapable of focusing on more than one major international conflict at a time, and that as a result the eyes of the world have wandered away from the ongoing war in Ukraine in favour of focusing on what’s happening in the Middle East (and while totally ignoring stuff that’s happening in all sorts of other places, as per) – but as the conflict rumbles towards its third year it shows little sign of slowing, and there’s no indication that Russian retreat is imminent. Eyes On Russia is an interesting site that pulls together verified information about What Is Going On on the ground from a variety of OSINT sources – it’s a project that’s been going for about a year, and “draws on the database of videos, photos, satellite imagery or other media related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that CIR’s Eyes on Russia project has been collecting and verifying since January 2022. CIR has verified the authenticity and location of all information contained in the database.” You can read a whole ‘how to use this site’ breakdown on the ‘About’ page,but effectively you can go back through the past 12 months of the war to see what happened where, alongside documentary evidence (for which, obvs, caveat emptor) and it’s both a miserable account of a lot of things being blown up and a superb example of what it’s possible to do with crowdsourced information when you have proper verification and factcheckers and noone’s making stuff up in the vague hope that Uncle Elon’s Virality Colosseum will chuck them a tenner.
  • Draw My UI: Via Andy, this is effectively magic. You know how when you’re mocking up a webpage or app or something and you draw wireframes that are basically simple outlines of where all the on-page bits and pieces will sit? Can you imagine how great it would be if you could just do one of those sketches and then just press a button and HEY PRESTO some sort of code genie would just sort of magic it into functional existence (and when I say ‘great’, I obviously mean ‘really really bad for a whole bunch of people who make a living from getting you from wireframe to website’)? WELL MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU! The first link takes you to a Tweet which shows a video of the tech in practice – if you want to try it yourself you can do so here, though you’ll need an OpenAI key which is only available to Pro subscribers. I’m yet to give this a try because it only showed up overnight and I refuse to get up earlier than 6am to write this fcuking thing thankyou very much, but it really does look quite remarkable, and while I obviously do feel for all the people who look at this and feel the cold, bony hand of the career change reaper on their shoulder it also feels like this sort of tech could usher in quite a fun new era of lightweight, easily-accessible digital creativity. Now, if only we could do something about UBI so we can all spend the rest of our days playing with these fun toys rather than worrying about how we’re going to pay the mortgage, that would be lovely.
  • Cobell Energy: Given that TikTok is basically just TV (TV with a ridiculously low barrier to entry, fine, but TV nonetheless) it seems surprising to me (a know-nothing bozo who has literally never attempted to launch an entertainment product and who really doesn’t know what he is talking about) that noone’s yet tried to do a BIG SCALE commission of scripted entertainment on the platform (although possibly everyone remembers the dreck that was commissioned by Snapchat during its brief, abortive, ‘we can be BBC3!’ phase) – still, that’s what we seemingly have hear in the shape of Cobell Energy, an episodic sitcom-ish show which is currently only two shows in and which I don’t really feel capable of judging because a) see my ‘two episodes’ caveat; and b) I simply don’t have the patience for or interest in this sort of thing (sorry, sorry, sorry). BUT! There are a few more details about the business model here should you want to read them, and if you fancy giving a VERY MILLENNIAL North American scripted comedy series about someone starting a new job as the social media person at an oil company then, well HERE YOU ARE! It feels very much like whoever’s scripting and shooting this has watched every single episode of The (US) Office multiple times, which may or may not make you tumescent with comedic anticipation.
  • Nosy: You know how there are some aspects of certain more non-traditional lifestyles that give you pause? Like, I don’t know, how one of the (many, frankly near-infinite) problems I have with the concept of polyamory and open relationships is the sheer quantity of *other people’s intensely banal  sh1t’ you will have to deal with when you’ve got multiple partners with whom you are developing AN INTENSELY SPIRITUAL INTIMATE CONNECTION THAT TRANSCENDS MERE SEX? Well Nosy is very much in that camp of apps, which seems designed to not so much make your life better and easier so much as to detonate a selection of social grenades in the middle of it. Can you imagine how much more ‘intertesting’ your social life would be if, rather than everyone having their own, private messaging conversations on their own, private devices, instead all your mates had a shared ‘anonymous’ messaging feed in which every now and again some random chats between two or more of you would be presented for all to see, but with the names redacted, so you can all have a fun time guessing exactly who it was who messaged someone at 23:11 with an eyeroll and “I am never watching another one of their stories ever again, they make me want to disembowel myself with a spoon”? CAN YOU? Honestly, unless I am massively misunderstanding how this is meant to work I think this might be the most ‘chaotic’ (sorry) app I have seen in YEARS, which itself is some sort of minor achievement I think – there’s even an additional option to make your chats available to THE WHOLE WORLD, which is giving me the howling, sweaty fantods just thinking about it.
  • Triniti: While LLMs have for the moment plateaued slightly – the news that Google’s new model is delayed til 2024 isn’t a huge surprise – music and video AI are improving at a rapid clip at the moment, and this is something of a leap forward for the tech. Triniti is developed by the same people who created Grimes’ vocal model (“GROIMES, NO WUN WUNTS TO RIMMIX YOR VAUCALS”) and who have now launched what looks like a genuinely ambitious new suite of products for artists and enthusiasts alike to work with. There’s a bunch of stuff in here about creating models of your voice and licensing them for others to work with, along with tools to help artists manage rights and collaborations and that sort of thing, but the real draw for dilettantes like me (lol, even ‘dilettante’ is a generous description of my musical non-talent) is the pair of toys you can play with – one is a text-to-audio model which sounds to my inexpert ears like the best one yet, and which was able to deliver a better attempt at d’n’b than any of the previous ones I’ve tried (and there’s an ‘explore’ section which lets you listen to all the other things people have been making, which is quite fun), while the other lets you sing to it and then get whatever vocal aberration you’ve fed in sung in the style of Grimes’ AI bot, or any others that you’ve trained, for effectively no-effort vocal style transfer. WHICH IS AMAZING, honestly – it’s a bit creepy and weird and horrid too, but SO MAGICAL! Honestly, this feels like we’re on the cusp of quite a seismic change when it comes to the audio side of this stuff – see also this new toy from Riffusion, which does the whole ‘sing us 12s of melody and we will turn it into an ACTUAL SONG’ thing, and the Deepmind/YouTube announcement which is bringing AI music creation tools to a bunch of ‘creators’ so they can use them to soundtrack their shorts. Oh, and while we’re doing ‘new and shiny AI tech’, here’s some Meta news about their own text-to-video model and a forthcoming ‘edit images and videos with natural language commands and AI’ tool – while neither of these are public-facing yet, they’re both a neat reminder of the fact that this stuff is being added to everything WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. There’s an interesting question about the extent to which anyone actually *wants* this stuff, but, well, who cares? IT’S-A-COMING!
  • Sustainable Horizons: Would you like to experience a cutting edge experiment in storytelling born of a collaboration between Dow Jones and ‘AI’? No, of course you wouldn’t, noone in their right mind would ever look at that ungodly concatenation of words and think ‘YES THAT IS WHAT I MUST HAVE I NEED IT I WANT IT GIVE IT TO ME’ – and yet that is what a bunch of people have evidently spent a lot of time and money building, and so in tribute to their efforts let’s all click the link and ENJOY! What does ‘revolutionary storytelling’ look like? Well, er, it looks like a voice over, and a video that looks a bit like the sort of thing that people were doing with Kinect a decade ago, and some generic waffle about how ‘ the world is changing REALLY FAST’ and ‘HARNESSING THE AWESOME POWER OF AI’. They used PROMPTS, you know! This is a classic example of ‘something that the CEO will think looks cool but which does and says literally nothing at all’, so well done, as ever, the people who got paid for selling this in because it is a GREAT bit of grifting – even better, there’s a button in the bottom right that you can click to be taken to ‘The Lobby’, which is…A PSEUDO-METAVERSE SPACE! All the points for this one, it really is a DOOZY.
  • Netwert: Can you imagine doing something consistently for 25 years? No, of course you can’t, that sort of dedication and commitment is surely anathema to people like you and I, attention spans fractured by years of webspaff and distracted clicking. David Wertheimer, though, is BETTER than us – Netwert is his website which has been maintaining since 1998 and which recently celebrated its 25th birthday and which contains David’s archive of blogposts going back all the way to the very beginning and I honestly believe that there’s almost no sort of diary that isn’t in its own way fascinating and important, and this is no different. As you might expect from someone who’s been blogging for two and a hald decade’s, David’s interests tend towards the technical and geeky, but regardless of the degree to which you give a fcuk about, I don’t know, David’s job changes, or his thoughts on Photobucket’s software updates, it’s 100% worth just clicking around and seeing where you end up – I found myself reading a post from a decade ago celebrating his tenth wedding anniversary and while I am admittedly a sucker for this sort of sanctioned voyeurism I would also say that there are few things more wonderful and sort-of-amazing than going and rummaging around inside someone else’s head and past like this.
  • The Taylor Wessing Prize 2023: The National Portrait Gallery’s annual prize for photographic portraiture rolls around again – this year’s selections include a gorgeous picture of Ncuti Gatwa (possibly the most photogenic person in the world, I think) and an amazing/slightly-disturbing shot of some teen girls doing the TikTok thing, but you will, as ever, choose your own favourites.
  • From One Bank To Another: Was it…2014 that Honda did their then-revolutionary digital ad where you held down ‘R’ to SEAMLESSLY shift perspective in a streaming video (you know the one I mean, don’t you? YES YOU DO)? However long it was, I remain slightly surprised that that riff hasn’t been explored a bit more fully – it’s still a fun idea, and I bet everyone other than tedious advermarketingpr weirdos like me has totally forgotten it meaning you can pretend it’s ORIGINAL THINKING. Anyway, this video is, er, basically that idea – so perhaps this ISN’T a good time to rip it off after all – except this time you get to shift from the left bank to the right bank of the river, using your arrow keys, which shift perspective in this, er, promo for a winery. Look, this is VERY SLICK but I do rather feel that ‘the wine is lovely and isn’t the river picturesque’ is perhaps a bit of a low-stakes waste for what I still think is a pretty fun tech-gimmick.
  • Common Errors in English Usage: Would you like access to a genuinely-exhaustive list of all the different stupid errors that people are wont to make when speaking and writing in the English language? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! This is the personal website of Professor Paul Brians at Washington University, and I once again could quite happily knock off here and just spend the rest of the morning reading about, say, the fact that using the phrase ‘time period’ is in fact a redundancy. You want to make yourself hate everyone in your life (and, especially, on social media)? Memorise all of these and it seems reasonably likely that that will indeed come to pass.
  • AISplash: An AI-only stock photo site, with all images free to download and use freely – not ENTIRELY sure why this exists, other than perhaps to show off the prompting skills of the people who wrangled the AI in the first place but if you’re in the market for a wide range of pictures that all bear that uncanny ‘made by machine’ sheen, categorised by content and style and type, then, well, FILL YOUR BOOTS. Have to say, there were quite a few on here that looked…nearly-real, maybe?
  • Bikini Bottom News: As yet more news emerges this week that people in the US are getting even more of their news from TikTok, and in a week in which Osama went posthumously TikTok viral, it feels important to point out that there are SOME quality providers of facts and information on the platform, that not everything is part of the horrid morass of liars, grifters and, frankly, double-figure-IQ-morons SPEEKING THARE BRANES down the camera – welcome to BIKINI BOTTOM NEWS, a channel which delivers largely-small-scale stories about US celebrities, but via a news anchor who is also a poorly-animated fish wearing a tie. I like this, but, equally, feel that every single person under the age of 40 should have a crash course in The History of News, and, very specifically, The News Bunny.

By Maisie Cowell (via)



  • Message In A Bottle: Would you like to issue a desperate ‘come and get me!’ plea to the little green men out there in the vastness of the cosmos? DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY WILL CARE? Regardless, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US has the theoretical opportunity to send a small record of our existence our into the inky black infinity that is SPACE thanks to this initiative by the NASA – you have until December this year to join the apparently 700,000 people worldwide who have already put their names on the list to have their identity engraved in TINY TINY TINY LETTERS onto a piece of metal that will be fired into space next year as part of the forthcoming Europa Clipper mission in 2024. Sadly there don’t appear to be opportunities to add any additional messages to any eventual readers, but you may still have time to change your name by deedpoll to, I don’t know, ‘save me from this dying planet before it’s too late’ which might be a suitable workaround.
  • What Is My Cookie Cutter?: I was until this week unaware that there was such a proliferation of differently-shaped biscuit-cutting stencil shape things – BUT FCUK ME THERE REALLY ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT ONES. As with everything else in life, there is a subReddit dedicated to the very specific question of ‘what the everliving fcuk is this shape meant to represent’, although (disappointingly to my mind) there is limited follow-up discussion on ‘yes, but WHY though?’.
  • RoastPlug: This is, fine, a BIT rubbish, but I like the fact that it exists – using what I presume is an opensource multimodal model, this website invites you to upload a photo of yourself so that it can make fun of your hideous countenance. The humour isn’t exactly what I would call ‘sophisticated’ (I am of course the best person in the world to arbitrate what is and isn’t ‘sophisticated’, as those of you who’ve spent a decade or more wincing every time I type the word ‘teledildonics’ can attest), but I confess to letting out a small, shamed laugh when it told me that I was obviously someone who had mistaken superglue for hair gel. Again, you won’t be able to do this sort of thing with any of the big models due to tedious safety concerns, but it’s an example of the sort of fun/weird things that you will be able to make (for better or worse) with all the open source stuff.
  • Scrolly Animation Styles: Would you like a webpage that demonstrates a whole host of different ways in which webpages can animate on scroll? IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS HAS COME EARLY! This is really nice – hover over each example to see it in action, and there’s even links to download code examples should you want to try implementing any of them yourself.
  • Oculi Mundi: MAPS! LOVELY OLD MAPS! “Oculi Mundi is a digital heritage destination: the home of The Sunderland Collection of world maps, celestial maps, atlases, globes and books of knowledge. The Collection was built out of a personal passion for travel, history, and the imagination. We seek to make it as accessible as possible — for study or for pure joy. Oculi Mundi takes a fresh, innovative approach to presenting antique material online…Explore mode presents beautiful images in a cluster, where you can browse and filter. You can peek inside the atlases and books to see internal maps and plates; you can view items at scale, and you can zoom in at super high resolution. An overview of each object is provided in text. In Research mode, the Collection’s objects are displayed in a more traditional way — but the functions are the same. You can filter or browse, view internal pages, and see items to scale. In this mode, full catalogue information is provided about each object.” This is really very nicely-presented – perhaps a *touch* fiddly in terms of UX/UI, if I’m being a pr1ck, but in general this looks gorgeous and is a pleasure to explore. Also, who doesn’t love old maps? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • AI Voiceovers: More fun with multimodal – this is a proof-of-concept demo that shows how you can get AI to effectively create a(n admittedly not very good) voice over for whatever video you feed it – the machine effectively ‘watches’ the film you feed it and produces a v/o based on what it thinks is in it. Which, obviously, is only of use if you want a voice over which describes what is happening in the images which is…possibly unlikely, but it’s really not hard to see how this is going to be used at scale for product tutorials, sports highlights and the like in relatively-short-order.
  • Mouchette: Via Kris, the website of Mouchette – ‘little fly’ in French – a digital artist who is almost certainly not a 13 year old girl, despite what the homepage here says. This is, I think, part of the body of work of Martine Neddam,  “an artist who uses language as raw material. Since she began as an artist, her favourite subjects always were “speech acts”, modes of address, words in the public space. Since 1988 she exposed text objects (banners, plaques, shadows on the wall) in museums and galleries. She also realized many large public commissions in several european countries: Netherlands, France, Great Britain Since 1996 she created on internet virtual characters who lead an autonomous artistic existence in which the real author is never disclosed.” – this is weird and baffling and labyrinthine, and if you are interested in following the threads there is a whole afternoon’s worth of reading and exploring to be found here.
  • Omeleto: This site bills itself as home to ‘the world’s best short films’, which, honestly, strikes me as unlikely, but I was intrigued by the tactics on display here – each short is between about 8-12m long, and they are all, as far as I can tell, decent-quality and well-produced, and each is accompanied by a VERY SPECIFIC description of what you will get if you watch it – “A man who stutters is forced to drive a voice-activated car”, for example, or “A traumatized man tries to convince his girlfriend to keep their unborn baby” – and the description box for each video feels very much like an AI-generated summary of the script…I am fascinated by this. Is it just a reaction to the fact that a whole generation of people seemingly really, really dislike surprises in their fiction and want to know exactly what they are getting before they consume it? Are all these videos by the same production company? Are the plots AI-generated? Am I just assuming AI here when it’s just a standard, human-issue bit of growth-hacking? No clue whatsoever, can any of you tell me?
  • Lightning: Apologies for the second ‘I…I don’t really know what this is’ link in a row but, well, I don’t really know what this is (and I was hoping one of you might be able to help me understand). Lightning is…a self-help movement? A cult? Some sort of awful cryptononsense? POSSIBLY ALL OF THE ABOVE!!! All I can tell you is that there is a webpage, and the promise of ENLIGHTENMENT, and a lot of very weird and oddly-shonky-looking images in which, for reasons that escape me, Vermeer’s ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ appears to be sitting at a laptop in a nondescript coworking space. There is an ‘About’ page, but, well, listen to this: “Lightning is dedicated to harmonizing the timeless wisdom of ancient philosophy with the transformative power of modern technology to cultivate vibrant communities, nurture personal and collective growth, and ignite the flames of inspiration. We believe that by seamlessly integrating the profound teachings of the past with the cutting-edge tools of the present, we can create a dynamic environment where individuals and groups can thrive. Lightning is to be a catalyst for connection, growth, and enlightenment, offering innovative solutions that bring people together, empower them to reach their full potential, and infuse their lives with purpose and inspiration.” LOL! Oh, no, hang on – here we go: “Lightning is a digital-first learning community; an immersive Encyclopedia that competes with Penguin, Wikipedia, and Kindle; a curator of sages, living, dead, and AI-resurrected; and, above all, an actual treasure hunt, threading tech and IRL, allowing you to choose your own learning adventure over the course of decades. In 10 years, anyone who reads the Great Books will be reading them on Lightning. Anyone who wants to chat with Socrates, Hammurabi, Keynes, Anselm, Virginia Woolf, Thucydides, Walter Benjamin, Marie Curie, Rabia, Rumi, Spinoza, or Suzuki, will be doing it on Lightning. Anyone who wants to travel the world, guided by the great texts and ideas of their destination will do so with Lightning in their pocket. The PhDs and would be PhDs who cannot make tenure or no longer want to because Humanities Departments are done for will work for Lightning—as spiritual Uber drivers, Charons taking you just beyond the bend of the familiar.” HM. I am going to suggest that in ten years time this is VANISHINGLY-UNLIKELY, but if any of you want to hand over your hard-earned (although I don’t know why but I imagine that the market for this sort of guff tends to be ‘inherited’ rather than ‘earned’ wealth) cash then please do let me know how you get on (if you can bring yourselves to descend from your intellectual eyrie).
  • 7 Frames of Film: Thanks to reader Darren, who sent me this project with the following self-deprecating writeup: “just a little time-waster that shows my love for those parts of movies that most people don’t pay much attention to. It’s NOT cutting-edge technology, it’s NOT important, it’s NOT even that well-designed (as a former graphic designer I see the flaws), but it IS just a little fun.” DO NOT BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF, MYSTERIOUS READER DARREN! The game here is, in Darren’s words, “The rules are simple: every day a new puzzle is posted, and each new puzzle involves a new film. You’ll be presented with seven frames from the film, one at a time, starting with something extremely obscure and leading, eventually, to something that most people would recognize. Your goal is to correctly name the film as early as possible, earning as many points as you can. The number of points for that frame are shown at the bottom, so it’s easy to keep track”. Now I am so much of a film refusenik that this is basically impossible for me to play, but presuming that you don’t have my inexplicable-and-frankly-borderline-pathological aversion to watching films then you might find this a lot of fun.
  • Chaptr: I am slightly surprised that none of the platforms have really leaned in to the whole ‘death’ thing – although perhaps that’s a factor of their own relative youth, and possibly the relative youth of many of the people that staff them. Still, it seems an odd oversight that Meta et al are continuing to cede territory to entrepreneurs attempting to solve the problem of ‘how do we deal with death in the post-digital/social era’ – which is exactly what Chaptr is attempting to do, letting people who sign up use the app to canvas memories and tributes from friends and relatives, and helps map the contours of a person’s life through the relationships they built along the way. There are multiple versions of this sort of thing out there now, but this looks like a decent addition to the range should you be in the market for such a thing.
  • 150: I don’t, based on when this was seemingly launched, think I have featured this before and it doesn’t come up on the site search – but it does feel VERY familiar (though that might have more to do with the fact that the central conceit here, the “INSIGHT”, if you will, feels unpleasantly-familiar from far-too-many idiotic advermarketingpr ‘strategy’ conversations). 150 is a social network (Apple only, to date) which lets you have upto 150 connections and NO MORE THAN THAT – the idea being that 150 is more than enough people based on actual, real-life connections, and any more than that is basically getting into the realms of WEIRD ONLINE VANITY SH1T. I have just realised that there’s a lot of ‘PROUDLY TEXAN’ guff on the webpage which always sets my ‘potential fash’ alarms going, but I am quite interested in the idea here and whether they can find enough (or indeed any) people willing to pay $2 a month for what looks like, basically, the sort of service you could easily replicate with a well-curated WhatsApp group.
  • Nervous System: The arrival of Christmas Advert Season here in the UK has once again given me the horrible seasonal whiplash that comes from the annual juxtaposition of ten months of ‘you know, we really ought to take some actual practical steps to mitigate the increasingly-terrifying-looking effects of humanity and capitalism on the planet we are still juyst about lucky enough to call home’ messaging followed by six weeks of constant exhortations to BUY MORE STUFF NOW BUY MORE THINGS LANDFILL ALL OF THE PLASTIC NOW! – and, as such, I’m unlikely to be doing much ‘festive gift guide’ content in Curios in the coming weeks. Still, I did think this company was interesting – Nervous System is “a generative design studio that works at the intersection of science, art, and technology. Drawing inspiration from natural phenomena, we create computer simulations to generate designs and use digital fabrication to realize products”, and they sell all sorts of procedurally-generated jigsaws and jewellery which you might like the look of (and obviously please ignore me and my tedious ‘buy less stuff’ moralising, and feel free to live however the fcuk you see fit because, honestly, I’m just some cnut sitting in his pants typing at you and you owe me literally nothing).
  • The New Public Directory: This self-describes as “Products designing for a prosocial internet: As the social media landscape changes and a new wave of digital spaces emerges, this Directory is meant to be a resource for our field — a jumping-off-point for further exploration and research for anyone who’s interested in studying, building, stewarding, or simply using digital social platforms. We hope this will inspire creative exploration, spark new collaborations, and highlight important progress.” You want to find tools for community-building, activism, collaboration and communication? You want somewhere where you can explore solutions that are bottom-up and open-source and largely free or not-for-profit? GREAT HERE YOU ARE THEN!
  • Ping: A few years ago my friend Simon (HELLO SIMON!) had an idea for an app which would basically have let you send up little ‘hello I am here right now’ location flares, visible on a map either publicly or to a limited selection of people, to help set up serendipitous encounters (and, obviously, as an easy and user-friendly tool for drug dealers) – that never came to anything (though he has a working prototype iirc, so do hit him up if you’re interested in making him an offer), but I see the ghost of it in Ping, a new app out of NYC which effectively does much the same thing – tell your friends when you’re out in case they fancy SPONTANEOUSLY MEETING UP WITH YOU. Which basically doesn’t really do anything you can’t do with Snap Maps (although in fairness there are better privacy controls here), but with the bonus that you don’t have to use fcuking Snap.
  • The MiniZine Library: A collection of small zines made by kids as part of a multi-year project that has been taking place for a few years now – from its descriptor: “a community art project that aims to create zines and wall newspaper‚ simple home-made publications in different shapes and sizes, during customised art-making workshops with children of all ages‚ on subjects related to their specific contexts and interests. The workshops are essentially resources oriented, meaning that they are specifically designed for participants to be able to identify their internal and external resources through the creative process, play and sharing. Ultimately, they allow for an experience of the life affirming qualities of art-making without the pressure or expectation to produce anything. The fact that something wonderful stands at the end, namely the library, something collective albeit with individual efforts, is both empowering and humbling. With editions in Switzerland (Giswil and Langnau), Pakistan (Lahore) and India (Kolkata), we aim to create a growing Mini-Zine-Library that visits more cities and countries, broadening the range of local expressions to include different languages, cultures and ways of thinking.” I love this, and the window into international kids’ heads that it provides, and I would happily spend an hour or two hanging out in a physical library of these (which is weird given I can’t muster any enthusiasm at all for praising my mate’s kids’ scrawls).
  • The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2023: Yes, I know, but YOU NEED THESE IN YOUR LIFE. I feel the memetic potential of ‘incredibly defeated-looking owl’ (trust me, you’ll know him when you see him) has not been fully explored yet, FYI.
  • Mechanical Creations: Yes, ok, fine, I know I said I wasn’t going to include loads of ‘here’s some Christmas tat you can buy!’ links, but this is DIFFERENT. How happy would you be if some mysterious benefactor were to commission you your very own mechanical wood-and-metal toy based on their own specific design? I obviously have no idea – I don’t know you or who you are or what you are into FFS! – but, speaking personally, I WOULD BE FCUKING DELIGHTED, so if any of you fancy clubbing together and commissioning, I don’t know, an emaciated and slope-shouldered webmong tapping away at a low-end laptop in his pants, then I would be HUGELY GRATEFUL. This is the website of one Oliver Pett in the UK, and he is very talented indeed.
  • Suspense Accents: A little soundboard website with a selection of buttons which, when pressed, produce a selection of small, suspenseful audio stings, which will be PERFECT for irritatingly soundtracking your significant other’s progress around the house/garden centre/soft play area (delete per your own personal flavour of domestic horror) this weekend.
  • Bake Off: The Recipes: Ok, this might be old news to all of YOU, but I had literally no idea that every single recipe they have ever had on Bake Off is available on their website…BUT THEY ARE, ALL OF THEM! I appreciate that I might be a bit more excited about this than is strictly necessary, but I have made a yoghurt and orange cake AND some guinness and treacle bread this week and basically feel like some sort of gluten god, and basically just want to the rest of you to feel the same sort of carbohydrate glow that I am currently basking in.
  • Nail Studio: You may not think that a small browser toy in which you get to paint the nails on a disembodied hand, in a graphical style reminiscent of 80s Apple, would be soothing, but you would be WRONG and that is why noone listens to you any more.
  • WikiWho: Finally this week, a lovely link from last week’s B3ta – can you guess whose Wikipedia entry is being referenced from the drip-fed selection of biographical facts you’re presented with? If you’re anything like me, the answer will be ‘lol no of course you fcuking can’t’, but here’s hoping you’re less stupid than I am.

By Leonard Baby



  • Forgotten Flickr: Old photos, sourced from Flickr. No context, no overriding theme from what I can tell – just photos, curated with an eye I personally rather like.


  • Targz: Do you like spirographs and pen art? Good, so does Targz, you will get on.
  • Where Is Carrot Man?: I was not previously aware of this, but it turns out that there is a local celebrity in Melbourne – CARROT MAN! To quote from a small profile I found, “the man known only as Nathan, explained his reason was pure and simple – to make people smile. His choice of large vegetable hasn’t always stayed the same – at first he carried around a giant turnip he found at an op shop. “I was carrying it home and noticed how much it made people smile. That made me feel really good. So I decided to try carrying other giant things around,” Nathan said. He decided to trial a giant octopus and a giant squid, but neither attracted the same volume of smiles as his giant carrot. “The diversity of people smiling and the number of people smiling was much greater. So I just kept carrying the carrot around because it was the most successful thing at making people smile,” he said. Nathan, who is on a disability pension, said he would have preferred continue carrying around his giant squid, but in the end it was the smiles that spoke for themselves.” Which, I think we can all agree, is HEARTWARMING. This Insta account shares photos of Nathan and his carrot – if you don’t find this at least a tiny bit cute then, honestly, even *I* think you’re a miserable, dead inside cnut.


  • Only You Can Tell Us Why This Is Happening: Yeah, ok, sorry, so I can’t not ‘do’ the war anymore – this is the only link on it this week, but it devastated me when I read it and I think the past couple of weeks in particular have made the questions raised by the testimonies here, collected from people currently living in Gaza about the circumstances in which they are existing, rather urgent.
  • The Westminster Brits Are At It Again: I appreciate that, for those of you not currently existing on this beknighted isle, the latest tedious bit of internecine conflict from the assorted inbreds, racists and lunatics we like to call ‘our Government’ is perhaps not all that compelling – but, I promise, this writeup in the London Review of Books of Where We Are Right Now is both an excellent overview of the situation as well as a series of excellent reasons to be furious at How We Got Here. I know I keep on saying this, but if you can look at everything that has happened in this country over the past 15 years and still think ‘yes actually, the incumbent Conservative and Unionist Party definitely *is* the collection of people who I want in control of our present and indeed future!’ then, well, you’re a fcuking moron or a fcuking cnut and I think I would like you to unsubscribe please. SPECIAL BONUS BRITISH POLITICOLOL CONTENT!: this is a nice piece in the Economist about the return of everyone’s favourite Bullingdon bacon-botherer David ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron, which does a good job of reminding the reader of all the exciting ways beyond the mere Brexit thing that he managed to fcuk up his brief, unimpressive tenure in charge (also, amusingly, it reminded me of the fact that I wrote one of the very first editions of Web Curios in the immediate aftermath of the coalition victory in 2009, which you access via the Internet Archive if you fancy a hit of Early Matt Nostalgia).
  • Peter Thiel Again: Look, I know that I am possibly slightly-obsessed with Peter Thiel and his role as ‘shadowy libertarian eminence grise pulling the strings of civilisation and bending it to his evil, vampiric plutocratic will’, to the extent that I have basically had to stop mentioning him in the context of politicis because otherwise people just start rolling their eyes at me, but, well, I challenge anyone to read this Vanity Fair profile of the man and not come away thinking ‘you know what? I don’t think that this person is very nice, or indeed that he ought to have the degree of seeming control over the warp and weft of the culture wars that his billions, and his access to the billionaires, afford him’. I mean, if nothing else the stuff about women in here is…somewhat eyebrow-raising, to say the least.
  • A Syllabus for Taking an Internet Walk: I think it’s fair to say that the general thinking around the idea of a ‘local’ or ‘tiny’ or ‘artisanal’ or ‘small-scale’ or ‘homebrew’ internet (other, potentially-less-irritatingly-hipster-ish terminology is almost certainly available) has coelesced over the past couple of years, and that there are a number of people and communities who are working at the edges of the general digital ecosystem to try and build a different way of considering of, and relating to, the web – of these, Kris of Naive Weekly is one of my personal favourites and as such I love this essay which he has written in conjunction with Spencer Chang, all about how to explore the web in smaller, more intentional, more guided, more, weirdly, *analogue* ways than you might be used to in this algomediated age – I think everything in this essay is TRUE, specifically what it says about the importance of THINKING about where you browse and what you see and think and leave behind as you do so – and as a bonus, it contains loads of interesting links to online spaces where you can find more work and writing and CULTURE that fits with this broad way of thinking. BONUS SMALL INTERNET THINKING!: Brian Lehrer writes at GREAT LENGTH about his experiences with marginal, new internet communities, specifically “the reformist and reactionary technology movements that began to bubble up in the early 2010s and could be unmistakably felt over the last five. I’m talking about the pushback by various groups of actors against social media, tech monopolies, platform capitalism, and the attention economy; the counter proposal of an indie web, a decentralized web, a Peer-to-Peer web, a permissionless web, even erasing the web entirely. Of course I am also pointing towards the whole monolith that is crypto. On an even more diffuse level, I’m thinking of the cultural backlash against ‘tech bros’ and startup culture; the call by many for slow, open, and humane technology. I’m thinking of the people who likened computers to gardens.” (this one feels a BIT like you might benefit from a degree of familiarity with the people and platforms involved, but if you’re a long-time follower of this stuff then it’s definitely worth a read). BONUS BONUS CONTENT!: a list by Rachel Kwon of similar bits of thinking on this topic from across the web.
  • The Living Dead: I found this SO interesting, and it’s a really cogent bit of writing/thinking about how we think about life, death and personhood in an age in which one’s ability to impact and interact no longer necessarily ceases at the point of physical demise and decay – how do we need to think about and characterise rights and responsibilities in an era in which our digital selves may never truly die?
  • AI is Just Big Data 2.0: I didn’t agree with 100% of this piece, but I did find myself nodding along a lot with the central thesis: to whit: “Generative AI owes more to this history of data analytics than to any history of AI. It is less about figuring out autonomous systems and more about automated pattern analysis. Those patterns strip away much of the world.”
  • Mums In The Metaverse: OK, so the original article is American and so this should probably read ‘moms’, but, well, no. The piece, though, is an interesting look at the unexpected boom in VR fitness among middle-aged, middle-class American women – obviously the term ‘boom’ here is relative because, let’s be clear, this is still a SMALL sample size and most people are still much more likely to put on some ill-advised lycra and shuffle around their local park than they are to strap on a headset and play some Beat Sabre, but it’s still a useful corrective to the widely-held ‘noone uses VR’ narrative that prevails (and I am always interested in the ways tech gets used vs the way its inventors and marketers THINK it’s going to be used).
  • Drone Delivery Problems: Despite the fact that literally no details were given about exactly where and when it would come to pass, the papers were FULL of headlines earlier this year when Amazon made its nth announcement about drone deliveries coming to the UK, neatly illustrating exactly why companies like Amazon keep making vague, tech-related promises despite their lack of practical relevance to real life. Which, basically, is what this piece is saying – the NYT looks at the practical realities of drone deliveries currently happening in the States, and points out, not unreasonably, that they don’t really work (unless all you want to buy is single quantities of goods that won’t break when dropped from a height of about 12ft). The main story here, though, to my mind, is how fcuking terrible the vast majority of journalism around technology is, and how good tech companies have become in ensuring that the stories that they want to push out get sent to, I don’t know, consumer reporters or political correspondents and as such don’t get the degree of technical scrutiny that they really ought to.
  • The Global Rise of Chinese Shopping: Rest of World contyinues to be the best English-language publication on global tech right now, as amply demonstrated by this really good exploratrion about the current state of Chinese retail giants and the steps that they are taking to expand their reach and increase their dominance in online shopping. Covering Shein, Temu and others, this told me lots of stuff I didn’t know – I had totally missed the Gacha-like mechanics some platforms use to keep people online, for example – and offers a good overview of how terrifyingly dominant we can expect Chinese-run shipping operations to be for the foreseeable future. BONUS REST OF WORLD CONTENT: a semi-related piece looking at the way in which Chinese-made knock-off goods find themselves playing a huge part in the economy of Nigeria (and by extension a lot of other African countries too). If you read stuff like this and manage to continue to believe that The West Is The Future then, well, I have a bridge to sell you.
  • The New Golf: I can think of only a few things more dull than playing golf (and at least one of those is ‘talking to or spending time with anyone who likes golf’), but I was fascinated by this article which explores how the sport is attempting to REIMAGINE (sorry) itself, in a not-dissimilar way to the post-TikTok/FIFA ‘King’s League’ football product in Spain – except this involves Tiger Woods and, as far as I can tell from the article, a game which resembles Robot Wars a lot more than it does a traditional pitch-and-putt. I would love to talk to someone who actually understands this stuff about whether they think any of these new formats have a chance of succeeding, or whether they’ll just end up being half-remembered like the mercifully-short-lived ‘Lingerie Football League’ of the early-00s (no, really – you can google it yourself, though).
  • The Soapification of F1: Or, ‘how everything needs a Stan Army and parasociality in 2023’ – this article looks at how Formula 1, a sport which is up there with golf in terms of how interesting it is to watch, or talk about, or listen to other people talk about, has broadened its appeal over the past few years thanks to a very smart strategy of ‘turn the whole circuit into a vaguely-soap-opera-like production’, which frankly, given F1 is literally a bunch of incredibly rich people flying around the world, hanging out with other incredibly rich people and the inevitable parasites that surround them, isn’t too much of a stretch.
  • Algorithms Hijacked My Generation: Part of a series of essays that are being commissioned by Jon Haidt about young people’s experiences of the web, in their own words, this essay by Freya India is a potted runthrough of What The Web Has Done To The Young, in their own words, presented as advice to the next generation. This is unlikely to tell you anything you don’t know, but it’s persuasively-argued, and sad, and makes the point that the problem with social media is that, at heart, it is always nothing but a sales funnel and at some point it’s going to end up with someone selling you a product or an idea or an ideal or a body image, and that it’s that has basically fcuked things.
  • The End of Retirement: I am 44 years old. Realistically-speaking, I am likely to have to engage in some sort of exchange of labour for pennies until I literally snuff it (please God not too long now), and I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t even have dependents and whose family is almost all dead – lol at you poor fcukers with kids and siblings and stuff! Would you like to read several thousand words about how we got here and what that means? Well I don’t care, you really SHOULD.
  • Space Living: This is so so interesting – a wonderful piece in the New York Times looking at the tedious, practical, ‘we’re all made of meat and gristle whether we like it or not’ elements that one has to consider when thinking about space travel, and all the different ways in which designers work to accommodate the annoying, well, fragility of our corporeal selves. This is honestly fascinating, not least because it makes the whole often-very-scifi concept of space travel feel more grounded and real – oh, and if you’re interested in this sort of thinking I can highly recommend the novel ‘In Ascension’ which addresses quite a lot of this stuff at the intersection of experience design and space travel.
  • Learn To Code, They Said: NGL, if any of you reading this making a living doing a lot of reasonably-simple WP work then you’re probably not going to enjoy this piece – still, THE BELL IT IS TOLLING. This is actually a rather lovely essay which is far from as self-pitying as you might think from its general premise (programmer talks openly and honestly about what they think the latest and coming wave of AI tools mean for the profession), and ends on a genuinely hopeful note about how we might usefully think about ourselves and our skills in the coming ‘Age of Copilot’ (and this applies much more widely than ‘just’ to code).
  • Sphere and Loathing: Charlie Warzel visits The Sphere in Vegas, in a piece which has been widely shared as much for its title as for its contents – it’s a decent piece, and Warzel is an engaging writer, and he does a good job of rendering the uncanniness of a place that is perhaps designed to exist more on screens than IRL, but I personally preferred this version of the same story in the Wall Street Journal – your mileage, as ever, may vary.
  • Miller & Power Vs Turner: I don’t as a rule feature court judgement papers in Curios, but I will make an exception for this because it is honestly BATSH1T and also unexpectedly very, very funny. The TL;DR here is that there was a falling out between a bunch of VERY ONLINE digital artists, that ended up in the High Court here in London, and this is the final judgement which dismisses all claims and, basically, sounds like everyone in the court was VERY TIRED of all their bullsh1t. You will have heard of at least one of the parties in here – Luke Turner was briefly real-world famous through his involvement in Shia Lebouf’s early-00s artw4nk projects – but, really, I think it’s best just to go in cold and ENJOY (via my friend Jay, whose book is out in the US this week and which all of you North Americans might want to check out).
  • A History of NoFap: On the one hand, a serious look at the history of the online men’s movement known as ‘NoFap’, which encourages men to refrain from committing the sin of Onan lest they waste any of their magical, precious seed (I am, honestly, only half-joking) is obviously a VERY FUNNY read; on the other, the amount of time and space dedicated to this does rather reinforce the idea that we men take our penises and testicles FAR TOO SERIOUSLY. Still, if you want to read an exhaustive history of all the idiots over the past decade or so who’ve attempted to persuade you that actually all your problems will be solved if you just STOP TOUCHING IT then, well, here you go!
  • Lil Tay Is Back: I had, I confess, completely forgotten the existence of Lil Tay, who got very famous very quickly a decade or so ago by posting videos of her being, basically, a horrible, foul-mouthed plastic gangster on video, despite also being a standard-looking suburban white teen of about 8 years old – well, it turns out that she is MAKING A COMEBACK and has, inevitably, a rap career…but that’s not really the point of this piece, which is one of the most dizzying examples of ‘well, it’s very clear that none if the adults in this profile should ever be allowed to be in loco parentis of this kid ever again’ that I have seen in years. Maybe Lil Tay will be ok – I mean, Bhad Bhabie is sort-of doing ok, I guess, if you consider ‘grifting on OnlyFans’ as a step up? – but based on this profile it does rather feel like someone might want to step in because this is…insanely bleak tbh.
  • Holly Herndon: I have featured musician and atrist Holly Herndon repeatedly on Curios over the years – both her work, and more recently her projects helping artists better manage and control their work and identity in the post-generative-AI era. This profile in the New Yorker is PERFECT, and, honestly, effectively a distillation of all the questions around AI and art and creativity that I, and by extension Curios, has been interested in over the past few years – honestly, even if you don’t really know Herndon and her art, this is one of the best discursive pieces about how artists can come to terms with the future in a way which feels less parlous and exploitative than that possibly imagined by the MegaCorps.
  • Flipping Grief: James McNaughton writes about his brother and addiction and death, and about the hustle-and-grift-and-shortcut culture sold to men through podcasts and self-help networks, and this is both intensely personal and very sad and also weirdly, and also sadly, incredibly universal-feeling.
  • The Thanksgiving Rider: This is very funny but also not funny at all – this is about the experience of going to visit one’s family for Thanksgiving, but, honestly, the experiences it describes are universal enough that you can sub ‘Christmas’ or ‘Hannukah’ or ‘Diwali’ for Thanksgiving and the point will very much still stand.
  • Don’t Create The Torment Nexus: Finally this week, this is actually the transcript of a speech given by Charlie Stross a week ago and which he has kindly made available online – it is all about why scifi writers make terrible future creators, and why listening to them was a mistake, and is funny and erudite and smart and interesting and is SUCH a wonderful overarching argument for why actually the tech-utopian, tech-accelerationist viewpoint is stupid and wrong – and Stross should know, because it’s writing like his that is forming the blueprint for so much of the dominant Andreesen-inflected vision of the future we’re being foie gras-ed with every day. Superb – honestly, I can’t recommend this highly enough as a ‘where we are now’ piece.

By Patrick Leger